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Spokane City Council to consider more restrictive camping rules Monday

Nick Bramhall via flickr
Spokane City Council will likely vote on a proposal to change the city's codes against camping on public lands.

The city of Spokane could soon tighten the rules on illegal camping city-wide, giving police officers the authority to break up any camp they see as a safety hazard.

The new rules are likely to come up for a city council vote Monday night.

Camping on sidewalks is already illegal in the city of Spokane, but the rule is rarely enforced.

That in part is because of a circuit court decision barring police from breaking up camps when there’s no place else to go.

In practice, that’s meant cities can’t enforce laws against sitting, or sleeping on public sidewalks, or anti-camping laws, without providing shelter beds for all genders, without religious restrictions.

The court did allow cities to restrict camping in areas where it is dangerous, or interferes with the purpose of public land – caveats city council plans to add to the code on Monday, says Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

“People think we're not doing enough and city council has to work within the law,” she said, “So in many ways our response to the illegal camping is directed by the Martin V. Boise decision by the 9th Circuit court.”

Hazards that could lead to a camp being broken up include campfires, public health sanitation issues or illegal activity. There are a few places in the city camping could always be illegal, under train bridges as well as on the banks of the Spokane River and Latah creek. Camping would also be illegal within three blocks of a homeless shelter.

How to address illegal camping has led to friction in city hall, with the mayor, and two more conservative council members, saying new rules should be much stricter, concentrating on downtown.

Kinnear says that solution would have moved camping into neighborhoods, and said the city-wide hazard approach will hopefully avoid unintended consequences.

In an interview earlier this Wednesday, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward indicated she generally supported the most recent, city-wide version of the update, saying it was a good start to addressing camping.

City Council will likely vote on the proposal during their 6 p.m. meeting Monday.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.